Challengers eye momentum

Delhi Capitals captain Shreyas Iyer (right) and team-mate Prithvi Shaw dance with fans before the practice session on the eve of their IPL match against Royal Challengers Bangalore in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI

The resurgence of Royal Challengers Bangalore, after six straight defeats, has testified that cricket remains a sport of glorious uncertainties.

The Bengaluru outfit has scoffed at elimination by chalking up a winning streak of three matches, and keeping their campaign kicking in the Indian Premier League 2019. They will now be hoping to continue their triumphant run against Delhi Capitals, who are just a win away from booking the play-off berth.

The knockout stage for RCB, however, remains a difficult proposition, if not impossible. With seven defeats and four wins, they are at the bottom of the table. Not only will they need to win their remaining three matches, but with their abysmal net run rate of -0.683 they will also be hoping that top three in the table -- Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Delhi -- will win their matches against the teams ranked below them.

It will be a challenging task. RCB have lost their two key players - Dale Steyn and Moeen Ali - who contributed in their mid-league revival. Steyn’s presence boosted RCB’s weak seam bowling, particularly in the powerplay overs, but a shoulder injury cut short his run. Moeen, who had been effective with his off-spin and batting, has returned to England to play in the pre-World Cup ODI series against Pakistan.

It has brought the focus back on captain Virat Kohli, who will be returning to his home ground, and maverick AB de Villiers. Both have held the RCB batting together, scoring 400 plus runs each, with Parthiv Patel and Marcus Stoinis, too, weighing in with their attacking batsmanship.

The bowling, though, is a persistent headache for RCB. With Steyn gone, the presence of a strike bowler is sorely felt. Tim Southee and Umesh Yadav, who took 3-32 against Kings XI Punjab, have been expensive. The two have to step up now, especially at the death, along with Stoinis.

RCB will be aware of Delhi’s poor run at home. They have 14 points through their seven wins. Out of four defeats, three for Delhi have come on the slow surface of Feroz Shah Kotla. With play-off within a sniffing distance, the hosts will be mindful of their home record. If they make the cut for the knockouts, it will be for the first time in seven years for Delhi.

The hosts’ batting is in top form. Shikhar Dhawn has four half-centuries up his sleeve. Prithvi Shaw has sizzled at the top and Rishabh Pant, with a strike rate of 163.10, is always a threat. Captain Shreyas Iyer, too, has been consistent with two half-centuries.

The bowlers have also served the team well. Kagiso Rabada has bowled with pace and intelligence to become the leading wicket-taker of the season with 23 wickets from 11 matches.

The afternoon contest will be between the teams of two contrasting fortunes. Delhi already have a foot in the play-offs. RCB’s survival is hanging by the thread. They have stubbornly held on to it, and will be mustering all that they have, for one more time, on Sunday.

Comments (+)